Six years after Thomas J. Griffin retired as Buffalo's parks commissioner, a neighborhood community center has given him its community service award to recognize his time in office.
The award comes after Griffin has served a jail term for property-tax fraud in Florida and after the city has gotten into legal trouble with the federal government concerning the way he ran a subsidized lunch program.
But Daniel T. Quider, a top Griffin administration official who serves as president of the Northwest Buffalo Community Center board, said Thomas Griffin's work for the center deserves recognition.
"Give the devil his due," Quider said. "He's done outstanding work for us."
A center staff member who asked to remain anonymous said the award was a surprise to many at the center and called Thomas Griffin a poor choice because of his recent difficulties. Griffin was jailed in 1988 after he improperly tried to claim a tax break in Florida. Last month, the City of Buffalo was ordered to repay the federal government $73,000 it says was misspent while Griffin ran a subsidized lunch program after his retirement. Marriott Corp. has filed claims for an additional $59,522.
Quider, assistant executive director of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, said he expected that some people would criticize the Griffin award because of his troubles in the last few years.
"You get complaints like this; it's tough," Quider said.
But Quider said it was his idea to honor Griffin, a decision he said was backed by what he calls the "one of the most diverse community boards" in the city.
He said Griffin helped establish "the finest boxing program" in Western New York at the center and also helped the community center relocate its Little League baseball diamond to a spot near the center, which is on Lawn Avenue.
Asked why Griffin was being honored now, six years after he left office, Quider said the community center's boxing program is being revived.
"I think it was a good way to highlight this kind of program," Quider said of the award.
Griffin was not present for the awards presentations during the community center's annual dinner Wednesday night. Quider said Griffin called before the dinner and said he would be out of town.
Joseph Murray, the assistant superintendent of schools who is retiring this year, was named man of the year for his work with the magnet-school system.